Pain au Levain (basic sourdough)

Beautiful Open Crumb of the 70% Dough

I baked my first successful Pain au Levain or a basic sourdough today. It has a nice crunchy crust and a soft creamy interior. The crumb is slightly dense from being over worked, but it was still successful.

The dough took a bit longer to ferment than I expected. I am going to play around with the hydration of my starter and how I build my dough to try and speed up the process. This time it took about 4 hours to double.

Pain au Levain Starter -- This starter is about 2 weeks old. It's pretty active -- doubling in size in about 2 hours.


I didn’t pull this recipe from a book or a website. Instead, I wanted to set a base point for playing around in loaves to come. I used a very standard 70 percent hydration dough with 2 percent salt and incorporated 20 percent of the starter. It was a great starting point. I am going to use 30 percent starter to increase the sourness a bit the next time I make this recipe. I might also try a lower hydration starter to increase the acetic acid and the sour flavor.


Before I started, the gluten in the starter was looking great. It was very different then only a few days ago when my starter was quickly turning to liquid. I pulled my starter from the refrigerator early in the morning and let it come to room temperature before starting my dough. I waited to see the starter begin to rise so I knew the yeast were awake and eating.

Pain au Levain

Final Dough Ingredient Amount
in grams
Dough Percentages
Starter Weight 240 20%
Flour 578 100%
Water 368 70%
Salt 14 2%
Total Dough Weight 1200

The percentages at the right aren’t exact. The 70% for the water accounts for the water in the starter. Even though 368 is not 70 percent hydration of the dry flour it means the final dough is 70 percent hydration overall.

The final dough weight for this recipe is 1200g. I made two 600g loaves for the recipe. If I was making a baguette I would have dropped it down to around 325g or 375g.

I wrote a quick excel spreadsheet to help with the math of your pain au levain. You can DOWNLOAD IT HERE. Just follow the directions on the bottom. If you have any problems with it just send a comment.

Pain Au Levain Procedure

After you’ve weighed out your ingredients, mix the starter and water in a large bowl. Stir it a few times anlet the starter begin to dissolve. Add the flour and stir with a spoon until it turns it comes together in a very rough ball. Just make sure all the flour is hydrated. Cover it and let it rest for a 30 minute autolyse.

After the autolyse, turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead gently  for a few minutes. Gently flatten the dough with your palm and sprinkle the salt on the surface. Knead again for about 5 minutes, or until the salt is incorporated and the gluten begins to develop. You may want to use the slap and fold method. Form the dough into a ball and place in a container to ferment. It doesn’t matter if you use a bowl or a rectangular Tupperware, just make sure there is enough room for the dough to at least double in volume.  I also prefer to not grease my bowls when working with straight dough.

The fermentation is in steps. Cover the container and let it ferment until you the dough rises by half (not double). Make a note of how long that first step took. Fold the dough on itself several times and check the gluten development. If it’s fully developed than let the dough ferment again the same amount of time it did in the first step. If the gluten still needs to develop then and add another fold in the middle of the second fermentation.

At this point the gluten and just about all the flavor should be developed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into two 600g pieces. Pre-shape the dough into rounds and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Finale shape the dough into rounds or batards making sure to stretch the skin taught. For a good video of shaping check out Ciril Hitz on YouTube.

From here on you can adjust the recipe to your liking. Either proof the dough on a floured couche or in a bratform or banneton. You can bake the dough in a loaf pan or make baguettes. Whatever you want to do and whatever you have the tools for.

To Bake

Put your oven at 500F with a cast iron or heavy pan on the floor of the oven. Move your shelf to the top 1/3 of the oven and make sure your baking stone is cleaned.


If you are going to slash your dough with a lame or knife do it just before putting it onto your stone. Add 1 cup of water to the cast iron pan for steam and quickly close the door. Wait thirty seconds and spritz water against the wall of the oven 10 times. Repeat this step three more times and then lower the oven to 450F. Bake for about 10 minutes and rotate. The rest of the baking should take between 6-10 minutes depending on your oven. You want the bread to be golden brown on the outside and 205F on the inside.


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